THE GROUCHY CULTURAL REVIEWS
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m just as thrilled as the next Al Bundy to watch attractive young actresses in the buff. (Who am I trying to kid – I’m probably more thrilled than Al Bundy.) But after suffering through the interminably dull, critically adored, After School Special called Blue Is the Warmest Colour, I was ready for something a bit more stimulating, such as a pile of needlework and an episode of Murder, She Wrote.Blue, now streaming on Netflix and Amazon, won the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and enjoys a 90 percent “fresh” rating on the Web site, Rotten Tomatoes. This near-universal acclaim mystifies me. I would chalk it up to the fact that most film critics are horny, middle-aged men, were it not for the fact that I am a horny, middle-aged man (well, sometimes).
This overhyped, NC-17 version of Dawson’s Creek does have a few positive attributes:
The lead actress, Adele Exarchopoulos, is cute, in a Bugs Bunny-overbite kind of way. She is fine as a French high-school girl discovering adulthood and sexuality courtesy of an older lesbian, played by Lea Seydoux, who is superb. Both actresses excel at the actual craft of acting and at performing pornographic, lesbian “scissors” techniques in bed.No, the fault here lies with director Abdellatif Kechiche, who was badly in need of 1) a strict mother on the set, and 2) an even stricter film editor. Kechiche, obviously in love with the youthful Adele’s face, devotes roughly 45 minutes of his movie to close-ups of Adele as she pouts, looks pensive, looks sad, looks confused. The explicit sex scenes are at least a respite from the endless face shots.
Again, the main actresses are good and certainly photogenic, but they aren’t interesting enough to sustain such a wispy story for an excruciating three hours. It’s just girl meets girl, girl loses girl, blah blah blah. The perils of young love. Tears and heartbreak.At the Telluride Film Festival in September, Seydoux and Exarchopoulos were asked what it was like acting for porn direc—er, the great auteur Kechiche. “It was horrible,” said Seydoux. When I realized, about two hours into Blue Is the Warmest Colour, that I still had to endure another hour, I felt exactly the same way. Grade: C-
Watching The Act of Killing, I learned that septuagenarian Anwar Congo, a genial-looking grandfather who lives in North Sumatra, has trouble sleeping. Anwar, once a prominent member of an Indonesian death squad, has bad dreams about a man he beheaded, and whose lifeless eyelids Anwar neglected to close before he drove off into the night. Anwar estimates that, beginning in the mid-1960s, he personally executed 1,000 people. But Anwar can take comfort because in much of Indonesia he and his elderly comrades are much respected.
These death-squad men are bad enough, but for me the most frightening aspect of The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated documentary, is the society in which aging “gangsters” – men who carried out mass killings, supposedly with the goal of fighting communism – are not just tolerated, but often celebrated. Just as in Nazi Germany, this type of genocide couldn’t happen without the approval, tacit or overt, of the society in which it occurs. It seems to be a nasty trait of the human race that, although we might not perpetrate violence ourselves, we get a vicarious thrill from watching others do so.
With the help of a friend, Anwar Congo playfully re-enacts one of his killings
Congo says he has nightmares about the atrocities and, apparently, he does get physically ill in the film while revisiting a killing ground. But at other times, he seems just as unconcerned about his past as does most everyone else.
Oppenheimer apparently tricked Congo and his friends into discussing their sordid past by leading them to believe that they would, with the filmmakers’ help, create a Hollywood-style movie. Everyone in Indonesia loves the movies, and Anwar is especially fond of John Wayne and The Godfather. The “movie-making” scenes in this film – including re-enactments of Anwar’s nightmares – are surreal and disturbing.
Anwar (right) and fellow gangster Adi Zulkadry get the Hollywood treatment
Horrifying as the story of these men is, it’s hard to sit back and be too judgmental. American movies inspired these guys; American propaganda demonized the communists (allegedly the target of the massacres, although anyone who fell into disfavor with the military or the gangsters was subject to execution) and, I suppose, made Anwar and his pals our “allies.” But they were poor, uneducated, and without resources, so should we be surprised that in their “fight against communism,” they used not ideology but rather Brando and Pacino as role models? Grade: A
Reasons you should watch this depressing French drama:
1) It’s good for you because, unlike most movies, it addresses the issue of death in a realistic manner. It’s a glimpse at what many of us have to look forward to – and that future ain’t particularly pretty, kids.
2) It boasts two outstanding performances by French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as married music teachers whose retired lifestyle goes from comfort to trial when one of them falls ill.
3) If you’re not sure where you stand on the issue of euthanasia, this film might help you make up your mind.
4) It will remind you that most of the real heroes in life are not found in newspaper headlines.
Reason you won’t likely watch Amour more than once:
It’s long. Yes, it’s not the kind of film we are supposed to “enjoy,” but it probably doesn’t require an unflinching two hours and seven minutes to make its point about love, commitment, and compassion.
Movies are usually about escapism. Amour is anti-escapism, but watching two old people go through their daily existence has rarely been so riveting. Grade: A-
Penthouse North (aka Blindsided)
I wouldn’t want to be a Little League coach, or a Big Brother, or a grade-school teacher. The consequences for an adult male in those occupations who falls under suspicion of improper behavior, or, as Mads Mikkelsen discovers in The Hunt, sexual misconduct with a child, are simply too harrowing.
Director-writer Thomas Vinterberg makes clear from the outset that Mikkelson, as Danish kindergarten teacher Lucas, is innocent of all wrongdoing when a 5-year-old girl innocently leads another teacher to believe otherwise. Once the gossip mill begins to churn in the village where Lucas lives and works, his situation goes from unsettling to life-threatening.
Watching The Hunt, I was reminded of the American film Prisoners, in which another adult male is suspected of kidnapping children. The Hollywood approach to a film like this includes violence, gore, and narrative “twists.” The goal, apparently, is to shock and awe the audience, because the story itself is not enough. The European approach – at least in this film – is to eschew twists and gore (there is some limited violence) and instead focus on characters. The result is a gripping, realistic drama. There are no great surprises in this movie, but there are no head-scratching, “yeah, right” moments, either.
The only negative for me about The Hunt is its ending, which seems too pat and reassuring – at least, that is, until the final shot. Grade: A-
Director: Thomas Vinterberg Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrom, Susse Wold, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapaport Release: 2012
Watch the Trailer (click here)
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely … smug, materialistic gentiles or vindictive, malicious Jews? That’s pretty much the unflattering picture painted by the Bard in this controversial “comedy.” For the young, heterosexual, and moneyed, the play ends happily. For others, not so much.
There are Shakespearean revisionists out there who refuse to believe that the beloved playwright was anti-Semitic but, if he wasn’t down on Jews, he was certainly down on Shylock, the notorious Jewish moneylender at the heart of this story about obstacles to young love.As always with Shakespeare, methinks you must read this play more than once. You read the first time (something of a chore) constantly referring to annotations for word definitions and cultural references; you read again for the pleasure of the poetry.